Who wins with the Oscars moved to February? The stars, the studios, the TV network, and all us viewers, says Chris Willman
Oscars 2002
Credit: Halle Berry: John McCoy/LADN/WireImage.com

Who wins with the Oscars moved to February?

I would like to thank the Academy. I’m more grateful than Halle Berry, Sally Field, and Cuba Gooding Jr. combined, now that the movers and shakers behind the Oscar telecast have all but cemented their plan to move the annual ceremony up by a month, starting in 2004.

Holding the Academy Awards in late February instead of its traditional late March berth will mean one less month of torture a year for all of us, industry and common folk alike. They don’t give out Oscars for this kind of commonsensical brilliance, but please, can someone get the org’s executive director, Bruce Davis, a Nobel Prize, a Humanitas award, a Pulitzer, anything?

”Oscar season,” of course, has come to be like ”the Christmas season,” inching forward to a slightly earlier starting date every year. The difference is, there actually seems to have developed in recent years a limit to how early most people will tolerate seeing signs of or having to worry about Christmas, and it’s gotten fixed at… Halloween.

No such self-imposed two-month restriction on America’s other major protracted religious celebration, though. For those of us who don’t have the liberty to tune out popular culture, it’s all about the Oscars from Thanksgiving, if not sooner, through the end of March. Is there any other culture in history that has annually celebrated a holiday for four months?

No one’s going to decide that we should just put off all this speculating about — and lobbying for — nominees. (We at EW help make sure of that.) So the only possible truncation is on the other end. But whoever thought it would happen?

Of course, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences isn’t taking this action to spare us, the little people. They’re doing it primarily for two reasons: (1) To undercut the effectiveness of the Golden Globes and all the other awards shows that try to grab some glory by beating Oscar out of the gate and even claiming to influence the Academy’s voters. (2) Given how cutthroat the behind-the-scenes lobbying has become these last few years, the Academy’s top brass surely figure that one less month of Oscar season means one less month for Miramax and DreamWorks to try to kill each other.

Does anybody lose in this? Well, yes. The trade papers, Daily Variety and the Hollywood Reporter, derive much of their annual budgets from all those full-page ads that run for months on end. This will presumably mean 30 less days of improbable ”For your consideration: Best Actor, Arnold Schwarzenegger” plugs helping fill the trade coffers. But it’s a win for almost everybody else. To wit:

? Moviegoers in smaller cities will benefit by no longer having to wait till late March to see the serious fare that opens in L.A. and New York in December for Oscar consideration but isn’t rolled out to the rest of the country till the studios can capitalize on a possible win. Who wants to wait till Easter to see films that the national media reviewed to death at Christmas? Now the good people of Boise and Dubuque will only have to wait a tortuous two months.

? For the stars, it means one less month of sisyphean reporters asking the question no actor in his right mind ever answers honestly: ”What do you think your chances are?” For us and them being spared that much more of this annual Chinese water torture, we owe the Academy a tremendous debt.

? ABC gets to air the show during February sweeps, a less altruistic but by no means less important reason for this decision. Those extra tens of millions of domestic viewers will add handily to the network’s average.

? And you know who’s the biggest winner of all? Me, and people like me, who, try as we might, can’t stop obsessing over all this insignificance. I hate myself for even thinking about such important issues of the day as whether Tom Hanks should lose even if he’s deserving just because it should go to someone who doesn’t have one already. I feel dirty every time I stoop to read a story about the clueless handicappers of Vegas oddsmakers. For saving me from myself for a month, and taking March away from the ides of Hollywood and giving it back to the world, I salute you, big golden guy.